Valerian Root As A Sleep Aid

Both physiological and psychological health depends on a good night’s sleep.

Appropriate sleep helps the body refresh and allows the brain to get ready for the upcoming day.

When a person fails to sleep enough, they start to experience signs of sleep deficiency. This can cause problems with their mental health, increasing the risk of anxiety, depression, and similar issues.

The physical health of the body suffers, too, increasing the risk of obesity, heart disease, and more.

The average adult needs between seven and eight hours of sleep each night1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 35.2% of adults fail to obtain enough sleep on a daily basis2.

People with sleep disorders have several options to consider. It is possible to take certain pharmaceutical drugs to improve sleep. These drugs do come with some side-effects3. There are several alternative options available too.

Valerian root is an excellent example. This is a 100% natural plant extract that may help a person enjoy a restful sleep.

Health Benefits Of Valerian Root

Valerian root, also known as Valeriana officinalis, is often recommended for people who struggle with poor sleep. This is a herb that is known to possess medicinal properties.

The chemicals found in the valerian root may help with certain mental conditions. There are also suggestions that these chemicals may have a positive effect on a person’s sleep quality.

People interested in this natural sleep aid should understand what exactly the valerian root is. It is also essential to understand what the herb will do in the human body.

What Is Valerian Root?

Valerian is a plant that is native to regions of Asia and Europe. Even though native to these areas, valerian root is often grown in other countries too, including the United States.

This is a type of flowering plant. It grows above the ground and will generally have a height of about 1.5 meters when mature. The flowers of the valerian plant will usually be either white or pink. These flowers give off a sweet smell. The valerian plant is also known for attracting a variety of fly species, including Eristalis hoverflies.

The root of the valerian flowering plant is used for its potential medicinal properties. Dried valerian root is used in a formula where dietary supplements are produced. In some cases, the root is also processed and used in a tea product.

The evidence regarding the valerian root is mixed. Many people seem to believe in the potential of this plant. At the same time, there are some concerns regarding the safety of the plant root extract.

Valerian root will often be combined with other herbal supplements and natural health remedies. Valerian and hops are an especially common combination in products that aims to help people struggling with insomnia4. Lemon balm is also sometimes added to these formulas to help calm the mind and body of the user.

What Are The Effects Of Valerian Root On The Body?

There are many chemicals found in the root of a valerian plant. These are the chemicals of interest when looking at the potential benefits of this herbal product.

Two of the most important chemicals of interested in valerian root include:

  • Isovaleric acid

  • Valeric acid

In addition to these two chemicals, there are also different antioxidants to be found in the root of a valerian plant.

The most important interaction would be with gamma-aminobutyric acid. Also known as GABA, this is a crucial chemical messenger in the body. GABA is involved in the regulation of nerve impulses that affect both the central nervous system and the brain.

The interaction between valerian root chemicals and GABA is what causes the sedative effects of the plant.

Previous studies have linked stress and low levels of GABA5. When GABA levels are too low, it seems to contribute to the development of insomnia. Sleep quality is also adversely affected by low levels of GABA chemical messengers. Furthermore, there also appears to be a higher risk of anxiety in people with a low GABA level.

The valeric acid may help to reduce GABA breakdown in a person’s brain. This means a person is likely to avoid those low GABA levels, especially during times of stress.

This process helps to provide a feeling of tranquillity. The individual may feel calmer when the breakdown of GABA is inhibited. Pharmaceutical drugs such as Xanax and Valium works similarly as the valerenic acid that is found in valerian root.

There are two specific antioxidants in valerian root that may further enhance sleep quality. These two include:

  • Linarin

  • Hesperidin

Both of these have been shown to possess sedative properties. The sedative action may help to improve a person’s sleep6.

Why Should You Use Valerian Root?

Valerian root is an all-natural remedy for helping people sleep better. The product does not cause the user’s body to be exposed to the chemicals found in pharmaceutical drugs.

Instead, it uses natural chemicals to yield a sedative effect in the body. It also helps to reduce the breakdown of GABA in the brain.

Apart from its sleep-enhancing capabilities, valerian root has other benefits that should be noted too.

The use of valerian root may also be useful in these conditions:

  • While a woman is experiencing menopausal symptoms.

  • To assist with relieving specific menstrual problems

  • To assist in the management of restless leg syndrome

  • To improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

How To Use Valerian Root?

Individuals interested in valerian root should ensure they know how to use these dietary supplements. Even though natural, there are still some factors to be taken into consideration.

In this section, we take a look at how dietary products with valerian should ideally be taken. We also consider potential drug interactions that people need to be wary of. These may cause adverse reactions to occur in the individual’s body.

What Drugs Interact With Valerian?

Several significant interactions have been noted with valerian. When looking to sleep better naturally with this supplement, it is vital that a person first considers the existing medicines they are taking. This can help the individual avoid potentially dangerous adverse effects.

Some drugs and substances that can interact with valerian include:

  • Alcohol

  • Xanax (Alprazolam)

  • Benzodiazepines

  • Sedative drugs

  • CNS depressants

It is also important to be cautious when taking valerian root with medications that the liver changes. Cytochrome P450 3A4 substrates need to be taken into consideration here.

The use of valerian may change the way that these drugs are processed by the liver. In turn, they may not be effective enough to assist with the specific conditions a person is taking them for.

What Should You Know Before Taking Valerian?

In most cases, a person can take valerian root supplements without any issues. There are, however, some cases where these dietary supplements may be harmful.

The effects of valerian root in the body should be considered. It is also important to consider additional factors when valerian is mixed with lemon balm and other ingredients.

Individuals who have existing conditions that affect their liver need to be cautious. It is a good idea to speak to a physician before taking valerian in this case.

The physician will be able to determine if valerian root extract may have an adverse action on liver disease. The doctor will also help the patient understand if taking valerian dietary supplements may be a good and safe option for them.

The same applies to other serious medical diseases and illnesses. Individuals with severe conditions should talk to their doctor first. This ensures the risk of adverse interactions with the existing disease is taken into consideration. It also helps to avoid potentially severe side-effects from happening.

Valerian Root Dosage – How Much Should You Take?

No specific dosage has been identified for valerian root. Different clinical studies have been conducted. These studies tend to use different doses in order to determine how effective valerian seems to be.

When taking too much of the supplement, more serious side-effects could occur. This is why people need to ensure they comply with appropriate dosage recommendations.

Even though studies do seem to differ, there is a general range in which the doses of valerian usually falls.

It seems like valerian is most effective when taken at least 30 minutes before going to bed. The supplement may not be effective when taken too far away from bedtime. A maximum time of two hours before bedtime should be allowed.

Doses generally range from 400mg to 900mg when using valerian root as a way to sleep better at night. The use of a higher dose does seem to cause more side-effects or at least increase the risk of side-effects. These side-effects have been noted among people who use a 900mg valerian root supplement.

There are some cases where up to three grams of valerian may be useful. In such a case, the dried root of the valerian plant is used primarily. The root is steeped for about 15 minutes in hot water. This also seems to be an effective dose.

Side Effects Of Valerian Root

Valerian root has not been linked to serious side-effects. There does not seem to be severe reactions that people experience when using Valeriana officinalis dietary supplements.

Still, a few side-effects have been noted in the past. The drug could help improve both light and deep sleep, which is why many people would outweigh the benefits to the potential risks.

We should, however, consider both the short and long-term effects that valerian root may have on a person.

What Are The Most Common Side Effects Of Valerian?

There are a few side-effects that seem to be relatively common among people who use valerian root supplements. These may include:

  • Headaches

  • Mental dullness

  • Dizziness

  • Uneasiness

  • Excitability

  • Stomach upset

It should be noted that some of these side-effects can be quite upsetting to people.

Furthermore, heart disturbances have also been reported in some cases. This can be a more worrisome side-effect.

Some people experience a worsening of insomnia they already experience. If this is the case, the person should stop using the valerian root supplement. It may cause a more severe level of sleep deprivation to develop.

Dry mouth is also not uncommon among people who use valerian. Some people experience vivid dreams while using these supplements.

How Severe Are The Average Side Effects Of Valerian?

In most cases, people tend to experience mild side-effects when using valerian. There are some cases where the side-effects can be more worrisome. This is generally the case when heart disturbances are experienced by the person using valerian.

There is also some evidence that withdrawal symptoms can occur. This is very rare, yet still a possibility. It will generally only happen in a person who has started to depend on valerian to sleep over a long period of time.

How Can You Treat Side Effects Of Valerian?

Side-effects associated with valerian is generally associated with the sedative effects the supplement has on the brain. It interacts with a chemical messenger to produce these effects. People are unlikely to experience serious side-effects.

In cases where adverse events do seem unpleasant, the best action would be to adjust the dosage. When side-effects are more severe, then taking a lower dose of valerian may be helpful. In people who find the side-effects unpleasant even at a low dose, considering an alternative option may be beneficial.

It is also important to consider additional ingredients added to the supplement. When hops, lemon balm, and other ingredients are added, they may come with their own added side-effects. Opting for a product with only valerian root can help a person better understand if the side-effects are directly caused by this particular ingredient.

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Best Valerian Supplements

There are quite a few dietary supplements that contain Valeriana officinalis as an active ingredient. When buying these supplements, it is important to consider the quality of the product.

Looking at the full ingredient list is also important. Lemon balm is often added for a more potent calming effect, for example. There may be other added ingredients too.

The supplement is most often used as a destress product. People used valerian for insomnia and it can be useful for people with anxiety7.

The ingredients added in addition to valerian root should be taken into account. They should be safe and not cause additional side-effects to occur. The individual should also ensure they are not allergic to any of the ingredients used in the supplement.

It is also essential to consider the dose of valerian root. Anything higher than 900mg may cause dizziness, especially in the morning. When the dose is lower than 400mg, however, then the product may not be effective at improving sleep and reducing the symptoms of insomnia.

Sources

  1. SleepFoundation.org. How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? [online] Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and Sleep Disorders. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html
  3.  WebMD. Understanding the Side Effects of Sleeping Pills. [online] Available at: https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/understanding-the-side-effects-of-sleeping-pills
  4.  Australian Family Physician Journal. (2010) Treating primary insomnia – the efficacy of valerian and hops. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20628685
  5.  American Journal of Psychiatry. (2010) Effect of acute psychological stress on prefrontal GABA concentration determined by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20634372
  6. Journal of Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. (2004) Sedative and sleep-enhancing properties of linarin, a flavonoid-isolated from Valeriana officinalis. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S009130570300368X
  7.  Medical News Today. (2017) Does valerian root treat anxiety and insomnia? [online] Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318088.php
Alternative Text

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Founder of Zayed MD, Dr. Ahmed believes in making the knowledge as accessible as possible to patients. He had his work featured in reputable publications such as The Huffington Post. Other than his passion for writing, Dr. Ahmed spends​ his time outside the hospital at the gym or with a good book.

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